Offices go green

Companies see their commitment to environmental protection as a key aspect in their operations, and which employees themselves are paying attention to.

March 23, 2021

Real estate was estimated to have been responsible for almost 40% of total carbon emissions in 2018. No wonder then that a very large number of developers are applying for green certification of their properties while employers take a closer look at a company’s sustainable development strategy.

Already in 2019, almost 70% of millennials indicated that if their company had a strong sustainability plan, it would influence their decision to stay with the organization for the long term. This trend should be even more marked in the future - young people are increasingly aware, and therefore also proactive, when it comes to environmental topics.   

"Although the topic of progressive climate change is temporarily in the shadow of the coronavirus, 2021 will see employers in Poland becoming even more interested in sustainability. Poland is no exception. And that is, among other factors, because of the home office. The months we have spent at home have translated into our growing awareness of environmental protection. Companies have been quicker to implement digital workflows, and consumers have been less likely to travel by car and more inclined to make smarter purchases. This trend can be seen by consumers’ increasing support local suppliers and brands. Therefore, especially younger age groups of employees expect their employers to be more sensitive to environmental aspects. As far as the office is concerned, sustainability in the workplace should be taken into account when preparing the office concept, both in the case of rearranging the space and choosing a new company headquarters," explained Dominika Oleksa, Senior Consultant, Workplace Advisory, JLL.


So, what can companies do to become more sustainable and prepare for the post-pandemic reality?

1. Start with the building and its location

Transport plays a key role here. For example, where an office is located in Warsaw or Cracow, will determine how many employees will use their cars to commute.

"Therefore, it is worthwhile for companies planning to move, to map out the commuting routes of their team and potential employees. Based on this, the most optimal location can be chosen that will save employees the time it takes to get to the office. And of course, shorter journeys mean lower greenhouse gas emissions," pointed out Maciej Traczyk, Senior Consultant, Tenant Representation, JLL.

In addition, especially in the spring and summer, many employers encourage commuting to work by bike (by providing facilities for cyclists, such as bike racks, changing rooms and showers). Companies can also put a limit on the number of business trips. Months of remote working have proven that a meeting we would have driven several hundred kilometres for, before the pandemic, can now easily be held online.

"For many months, companies have been struggling with doubts about the role of offices in the new post-COVID reality. Home office working has undoubtedly proven to employers that working from home doesn’t affect efficiency or business continuity. However, this mode of work does not, in the long run, address the needs related to developing and maintaining bonds between employees, the sense of belonging to an organisation or building a team identity. Therefore, in this changed reality, the role of offices will be crucial and focused on providing employees with comfortable conditions for teamwork, meetings and knowledge exchange. The introduction of a hybrid work model combining working from the office with working from home will become our daily routine and a good compromise, which supports both our productivity and our ability to maintain a strong organisational culture. Although working from home is just fine when it comes to individual work, in the case of more complex tasks or ordinary daily interactions, isolation from the rest of the company can be a frustrating and tiring experience," added Magdalena Bytniewska, Change Management Senior Consultant, JLL

2. Be reasonable about the office arrangement

There are three scenarios when it comes to office space design: tenants lease space prepared for them from scratch, rearrange an existing office or refresh lease space previously occupied by another tenant.

"In all three cases, ingenuity is key: in the first case it’s all about the smart use of a building standard, in the other two, a clever approach to reusing existing elements is the 'reduce, reuse, recycle' principle. Both built-in elements - lighting fixtures, floor boxes, ceiling tiles, installations - but also movable furniture can be reused. In a recent project carried out by our team, a client decided to reuse 1000 chairs by changing their upholstery to match the new office colour scheme. Another company, meanwhile, used an existing furniture substructure when replacing 800 desks - the legs of the desks hardly deteriorate at all during normal use. We work with subcontractors who, apart from replacing the upholstery, are also able to refresh plastic and metal furniture components, and broken pieces are disassembled for spare parts. It's also worth considering the carbon footprint when selecting finishing materials and other furnishings - we often rely on local manufacturers. These are examples of an economic and ecological approach to arranging our offices," added Anna Rębecka, Senior Creative Architect, Tétris.

3. Keep savings in mind

Want an example of how sustainability saves money? The wise use of water and lighting.

Increasingly, companies are opting for DALI systems with intensity controls based on the amount of natural light instead of installing conventional LED lighting. And it's now a market norm for lights to be switched off throughout the office when the last employee leaves. In addition, it is worth considering solutions that enable the filtering of water instead of ordering it in plastic bottles as well as deciding to install aerators for taps, which limit the flow of water. 

4. Focus on flexibility

A sustainable office is a flexible office, one that literally and seamlessly adapts to change.

"Flexibility means movable furniture and design elements that can be easily rearranged according to the needs of employees using the space in line with the Activity Based Workplace concept. Companies are also trying to move away from assigning desks to specific employees or teams, so that they can decide for themselves which areas and parts of the office they want to use on any given day or week. In order to ensure such a level of flexibility, it is necessary to introduce appropriate technical solutions in advance," explained Dominika Oleksa.

To this end, it is necessary, for example, to provide additional cabling which allows for furniture to be rearranged.

5. … and systemic solutions

The massive shift of the office real estate market towards sustainable development is best illustrated by the fact that practically all of the office buildings under construction or those completed in recent months are certified in the BREEAM or LEED systems. These two standards certify the use of ecological solutions and recycled building materials. However, an appropriate green certificate awarded to a building does not mean that the same direction will be taken by tenants, who are free to arrange their own office space, and unfortunately, do not always consider the principles of sustainable development.

"It is also important for real estate players to adopt holistic strategies aimed at decarbonising the sector. Last year, our company committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions in all 460 buildings occupied by JLL by 2030," said Dominika Oleksa.

JLL intends to achieve this goal through five actions, including increasing energy efficiency, leasing space only in properties that achieve zero operational net emissions over the next nine years, and by educating clients and partners and encouraging them to take proactive steps towards sustainability.

"Once again the collaboration aspect is proving to be the most important one. With our clients, however, we see a great openness to change. Over the past year, we have advised on a variety of projects in workspaces, totalling 130,000 sq m, which aimed to adapt offices to the 'new normal' and sustainability principles. So there is a good chance that our offices will be greener," concluded Dominika Oleksa.